Shadows in the Valley presents its audience with as bleak a picture as you can imagine for the children & families of Juárez. Yet hope and determined optimism shine in this thought provoking and emotional documentary. Director Josh Webb has a keen eye and ability to draw in his audience, culminating in a film’s tremendous success.
When cartel wars erupt in the Valley of Juárez, and a migrant crisis leaves hundreds of children without their parents, a missionary risks his life to rescue orphans hiding in the shadows of the Valley of Death.
The bravery of Steve to keep going when he details how the cartel would remove anyone of power or anyone who was vocal and wanted change in their community by murdering not only that person but their entire family and then burn their property to the ground. He then reveals that the cartel put a list in the shopping mall stating who they would kill. No one took it seriously, much to their foolishness. As calmly as can be, he then states that he is on the second list that has gone up, and it is hard for a chill not to strike you.
For all that we see of his efforts to try and build something for the area, this is a story about those stuck in the middle of this valley of violence. We hear haunting stories of what these people have experienced, and it truly shocks you to the point that you don’t quite know how this vicious cycle can be reversed, despite all of Steves efforts. He even says that he wants to just bring a smile for a minute to these “zombie children” by giving them a simple present for Christmas. This act of kindness from Steve and his church comes around later on in the documentary in an astounding way.
There can only be so much done by Steve and the ministry, but fighting the cartel seems insurmountable. But, with first-time director Josh Webb’s keen and focused eye, he can get gold from his subjects. Be it the free-speaking Steve or those who affected by the violence and migrant crisis. He is careful not to hammer home his point, and by pulling back when required, he can keep his audience compelled. With hope, this will not be his last feature as a promising future lurks for him.
With that said, there are some slight issues with the documentary. First, at times there is a repeat in stories from Steve and other subjects, and while the repeats are used to allow a furthering of the story, it seems slightly needless that it was mentioned the first time. In addition, several small problems come up here and there throughout (the need for reenactments are not entirely required when Steve paints an already vivid picture). Yet, there is never enough to detract you from the point that Webb is making here.
Throughout Shadows of the Valley, we hear from those who work with Steve and have been mentored by him. Each with their own heartbreaking story. However, each gives their optimism as they let the camera know that they now have a future that they wouldn’t have had before through the support from Steve. This is something that Steve passionately wants to deliver to as many children in the community via the orphanage.
The use of faith in some documentaries can sometimes be cringe-inducing or used incorrectly to help deliver the point of the narrative. However, here, it is widely used to fill you with hope. No matter your feelings towards religion, it works here with the community, using it almost as close as a lifeline as they can to keep them going. As Steve informs us how gracious companies and people have been to support his dream of making something for these children, you can’t help be drawn to his dream, to feel in him. His almost giddy interactions with everyone and detailing what he hopes for
Then as soon as that hope is almost brimming within us, Dr Jeremy Slack brings us straight down to Earth with how things currently are. It hits you hard purposely; we should be aware of the trauma that is going on in this society and the work not just to remove the cartel but to help the healing process begin.
Overall, Shadows of the Valley is a compelling documentary, and with a subject and mission shown here, it is a worthy one to document. When Steve gets emotional and frustrated by the lack of assistance that should be right there for such a project, you feel that. However, as said throughout, hope remains that this facility will have its place in that valley, and a little bit of light will come forth—a difficult film to ignore.
Shadows in the Valley is showing at the Queen’s World Film Festival until the 1st July, watch it here
For more information about the festival click here
For more of our coverage of the festival please check out our reviews below:
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